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Passing Judgment, Judging Rightly

By William Ryzek

There is a great difference between passing judgment and making sound judgments. The scripture condemns the former and encourages the latter. One way of thinking about the difference is this: passing judgment is condemning someone or something without grace and mercy as though we have the authority to do so. Making sound judgments means to distinguish between good and evil and then choose the good. It also means properly understanding the true nature of reality. It is sometimes called ‘discernment’ in the scripture and shares the same root term (krino) from which ‘judgment’ and ‘judge’ (the ‘passing judgment kind’) are derived. Depending on which translation of the Bible you read, both the English words ‘discern’ and ‘judge’ are used to translate diakrino and anakrino. For example, the word diakrino is used in Hebrews 5:14 and anakrino in 1 Cor. 2:14 and both times the English word ‘discern’ is used to translate these different Greek words (KJV). But, in 1 Cor. 2:14-16 the word ‘judge’ is used to translate anakrino (KJV); i.e. so both ‘judge’ and ‘discern’ are used in some cases to translate the same Greek word. Because of this, I use the term ‘discerning judgment’ to try to capture both ideas.

In the Hebrews text, ‘discerning judgment’ has to do with spiritually knowing the true nature of good and evil and is dependent on a familiarity with the ‘word of righteousness’ (v13) against which all other ‘words’ are weighed. This idea is illustrated by the ‘milk’ and ‘meat’ of God’s Word; discerning judgment is reserved for those whose diet is the meat, not the milk, of God’s Word. It is not, therefore, just our moral sensibilities nor those of the world that determine good from evil but God and His Word, and only a deep familiarity with it insures knowing what is truly good and what is not.

Interestingly, the word ‘senses’ refers not only to those uniquely spiritual capacities we have but the physical ones as well including what we look at, what we listen to, what we come into contact with and where we go. When the spiritual senses dominate the physical senses, discerning good from evil makes it possible to taste, touch, hear and see those things that please God. This is what the term “exercise” refers to in v14. It is in the present tense signifying a completed action, once and for all. In other words, the mature believer’s familiarity with the Word is such that discerning good from evil is a settled ability, no vacillations, no debating, and no wondering. They simply know what is good and evil in the world because they know so well the Word from heaven.

But, besides strictly moral applications, ‘good and evil’ also entails doctrines and teachings that confront believers. The context of Heb 5:14 is concerned with discerning the truth of the Gospel over and against Judaism. However, a wider application of this discernment covers all the points of view represented by cultures and societies around the world. While other opinions and explanations of why and how things are the way they are may seem similar in some respects to the Gospel, they are in fact caricatures of the truth. These days, there is increasing disagreement amongst Christians over what is good and evil and what counts as ‘sound doctrine’ suggesting that worldly wisdom is overcoming the wisdom that is from God, a point well illustrated by the moral and epistemological relativism embraced by some Christians.

The Corinthian passage (1 Cor. 2:1-16) addresses this modern issue of relativism by contrasting discerning judgment with ‘the wisdom of the world’. The Christian point of view is so different from the world’s there is really no frame of reference between them and the natural man(unregenerate person) cannot grasp (v14) the realities we know are eternal and righteous. What Christians believe about reality (creation, sin, and God’s plan for redemption) and how they live their lives seems foolish to the uninitiated. We ‘judge all things’ because we ‘discern’ the true nature of reality and we cannot be ‘judged’ by the unregenerate for they lack the spiritual capacity to do so. We are, then, never to be intimidated by the ‘wisdom of the world’ but hold fast to the wisdom that is from God.

This brings us to the point of this article. Sometimes ‘judge’ is misunderstood as ‘passing judgment’ and ‘discernment’ misunderstood as faultfinding. This often leads to an unwarranted timidity when facing evil people or evil policies and we tend to keep matters to ourselves and say little or nothing. But, as we have seen, discerning good and evil is a mark of Christian maturity (Heb. 5:14) and since there are good and evil people doing good and evil things Christians have a responsibility to know the difference and speak up with praise for the good and condemn evil. Although we are often accused of passing judgment we are, in fact, just seeing things the way they really are and, in obedience to the scripture, resisting what is contrary to God.

However, it’s one thing to discern evil in worldly circumstances, quite another in church, so it seems. The problem for church leaders who have the responsibility of leading others into a holy lifestyle is the fear of being accused of ‘passing judgment’ and then making no judgments at all. Self-righteousness indignation is often the reaction of secular society to any criticism of its moral sensibilities and so it is with people in the church. In fact, it can bear a striking resemblance to Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders of His time who, when exposed to His discernment, reacted with anger, hatred and retaliation.

Some important points can be made here: condemning judgment, the kind we are to avoid, has its basis in self-righteousness and a degree of hostility towards others whereas the source for discerning judgment is Christ and the Spirit. Furthermore, the purpose for discerning judgment is always the advancement of the Christian faith and the well-being of others, not pointing out the faults in others nor elevating ourselves by putting others down. And, discerning judgment is exercised within the Christian community, not in isolation. This means no person is so privileged that he/she can judge but never be judged (except perhaps in a cult).

We cannot get better if we think we aren’t sick. We cannot overcome sin if we cannot discern its presence. We cannot overcome the world if we don’t first judge its true nature. We cannot know the truth without also discerning the false. The list goes on. Discerning judgment is required for walking the walk of faith in the midst of faithless and rebellious world. And just as Jesus came into this kind of world, “not to condemn but to save”, so are we to go and judge rightly, not pass judgment.

William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers and is in the process of writing a book entitled “Faith for a Doubting Thomas”. Dr Ryzek can be reached at drwryzek@faithwriters.net

Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.comCHRISTIAN WRITERSMAKE A WEBSITE

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